New Year’s Resolutions for the Bereaved
As the New Year approaches, many of us make resolutions to help insure that the future is brighter for us. Typically those resolutions have to do with weight loss, or exercise and are abandoned before Ground Hog Day. For the families of those 2.4 million Americans who died this year, I’d like to suggest ten resolutions that may lessen your feelings of loss and help you as you recover.
1. Resolve not to be a victim. Don’t exploit your situation to gain favor or manipulate outcomes. Victimhood is a trap and it actually can prevent your recovery from the loss that precipitated your suffering.
2. Resolve to forgive anyone who may be somehow responsible for your situation, e.g., criminals, drunken drivers, doctors, the deceased, etc. This doesn’t require that they ask for forgiveness, or that you tell them that you forgive them, merely that you forgive, release and bless them. Only then can you be truly free.
3. Resolve not to wallow in grief. It’s impossible not to feel grief after a major loss. It’s actually healthy to grieve, as it is essential to healing. But wallowing in grief is neither essential, nor healthy. If you feel an emotional response coming over you, don’t run away but also don’t allow it to consume you. Find a safe place. Feel it. Release it and move on.
4. Resolve to talk about your feelings with someone you trust. If you merely stuff them, they don’t go away. They may come back later to sabotage your progress just when you think you are getting better. Or, they may result in medical problems that are stress related. Whether it’s a therapist, a rabbi, a minister, a family member or a friend, find someone you trust and tell them what is going on for you.
5. Resolve not to “catastrophise” your loss. When you tell what happened try to choose words that are true but not so emotionally charged. Hyperbole isn’t helpful because it re-stimulates the trauma of your suffering. Reality is helpful. By sticking to simple facts as you tell your story, instead of dramatic, emotionally charged descriptions, you can begin to loosen the loss’s hold on your life.
6. Resolve to listen to other’s grief stories, even if you find them trivial compared to yours. While it may be hard to hear about the death of someone else’s dog when you just shared about the death of a family member, any loss of a loved one, human, or animal is a serious emotional upset. Hearing others’ stories helps put ours in perspective.
7. Resolve not to use platitudes in consoling others. Expressions like: “She’s in a better place now,” or “God won’t give you more than you can bear,” or “When one door closes another one opens,” although well intended, may actually cause more suffering. A simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” conveys sympathy without additional infliction of pain.
8. Resolve to help others. By lifting someone else’s spirits you will also be lifting your own. And it will help you realize that you are not alone in your loss.
9. Resolve not to give up on your life. This season of grieving will pass with time. Believe that your future will be better than your current situation and you will begin to see the evidence of that happening. Believing is seeing. If you believe that things will get better, they will.
10. Resolve to be grateful for everything that is right in your life. It would be good to either speak or write your gratitude lists. By acknowledging the many good things that are happening you will soon see that in spite of your loss your life has hope and it has potential.
I’m sharing these ten resolutions because I used every one of them in my journey of loss and they worked for me. My New Year’s wish is that they will be of use to you, too. Grief does not have to be a life sentence without parole, but we do have to work toward our own recovery.
Happy New Year!